I recently went hiking in a beautiful national park outside of Columbia, SC. This park was in a swampy area and contained all sorts of wildlife (called “critters” down here) and plant life (called “trees and those other things” down here). When I was young, my dad would take us kids on hikes through the Adirondack Park in New York, and so being on hikes in nature hits my soul in a very deep spot. It’s emotional, it’s physical, it’s a treat to my senses, and it’s a spiritual experience for me.
I was pondering what it was that moved me so much while hiking. I am the sort of guy who probably overdoes the pondering bit, as I find myself doing far too much pondering about my pondering. It’s what I refer to as being “too damn introspective.” Anyway, the forest in this park is filled with spider webs, and since it was misting rain while we were walking, the webs glistened with beads of water that sparkled in the sun. It was stunning. As I did my damn introspection bit, I saw an especially large web with a huge yellow bodied spider in the middle. One of my hiking companions told me it was a golden orb weaver spider, and this spider sat in the center of this huge web as if to claim its beauty for her own. It was as if she wanted me to know that she had made that web and that I could applaud at any time.
I stood and appreciated both the creation and the creator for a while and then moved on, passing by tens, hundreds of other amazing webs and proud creators displaying their work. But did they really care about their audience? I thought about how many more webs there were in this forest that I would never see. I thought about how many webs there were in the world of equal or even greater beauty that no person would see. I thought about the irrelevance my life posed to these spiders (unless I went into their web and destroyed their work), how they would continue living, dying, building webs, having young, catching food, and building beautiful creations. I was but a lucky observer of a minuscule segment of the beauty that spiders spin each day.
And I was humbled.
This is part of what makes nature a spiritual experience for me. I realize that I am but a small part of a huge tapestry painted on this planet. And even the entirety of the beauty that is and ever will be on this earth is but a minuscule portion of the beauty in the cosmos. And that beauty is but a speck when you consider the beauty that has ever existed and will exist until time comes to a close.
I think about this kind of thing when I fly in a plane and see all of the tiny little cars darting around doing their crucial tasks. That’s me down there, a self-assured dot of unimportance in the big picture of things. Perhaps the birds look down on us as we see the spiders in the forest. Perhaps they have a more realistic perspective on things. Or maybe birds too are “too damn introspective” like us.
This all makes me take a much lighter view of life. Yes, the things that are happening in this world are important. Yes, the pain that I see daily in my office, the struggles I have in my own life, and the fears I have about all of our future are real things. But they are small things in the tapestry of all space-time. They are spiders in a forest. The cosmos won’t be altered in any significant way by any decisions I make.
So does this make us not take things seriously? No, I think that this perspective gives us more reason to hold our small time and place here as being precious. Like those spiders, we need to build our webs with skill, care, and a desire to make them as beautiful as we can. Whether we are building them for our creator/God (which is what I believe), or doing it simply because that’s what we spiders do: We make beautiful webs.
So if someone cuts you off in traffic, if you are enraged by something on Facebook, if you are desperate for love, or if you are anxious about your future, just remember: We are all spiders making our webs. Be humble. Take it easy on the other spiders out there. And build the best damn web you can in the part of the forest you call home.
Rob Lamberts is an internal medicine-pediatrics physician who blogs at Musings of a Distractible Mind.
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